When I was a new teacher I planned my year out with the help of my district and textbook pacing guides. I knew I needed to get through X number of chapters in X weeks. I typically started by mapping out how far I needed to get through by midterm, then I put in the goals for each quarter and then put in assessment days for each chapter or unit because my professional learning community (PLC) had made a decision to have common assessments.
As the days went on and unexpected events occurred, I realized that I always planned more than I had time to cover. My schedule got further and further behind and it stressed me out! I realized was that things will always come up and the curriculum is far too vast for the number of days I had with my students. I also realized that I was not beholden to my pacing guide, I was beholden to my students’ learning. Students are not programmable robots; it is not possible to know ahead of time exactly how long it would take to learn a particular concept. I realized I had planned for teaching, not for learning. As my friend and former colleague Debi Hanuscin has said, we should teach at the speed of learning.
Now this all sounds fine and good, but the realities are that many of you may have pacing guides and common assessments, so what can you really do? Well, something that I found incredibly freeing was quite simple in retrospect, I planned in flex days. For at least one day every chapter or unit I planned a day of TBA. Mentally, this gave me space to not stress out when a sudden assembly was held or my well-planned one-day lesson stretched over two days. This did not address some of the larger issues, but, in the spirit of 180 Ideas, it was one, easy to implement idea that helped in some small way. I still do this as a professor and I even do this by setting aside an hour here and there on my calendar that is marked as Flex Time. This allows me to have a dedicated time for myself to work on something I am passionate about or to just enjoy a leisurely stroll or coffee during that time.
I hope you plan in a Flex Day in the future. Feel free to share any ideas or variations you have on the flex day in the comments.